Saturday, February 27, 2021

Reissues and Represses on the Radar

I don't know about you, but being an old guy, I try to recapture moments from my youth by buying records from that simpler time. That's why my annual list of best reissues is always at least as long as the one featuring new releases. If you're an indie-pop fan of a certain age, perhaps there is something below here for you. Some of these are just coming out, and others are just around the corner. Let's start with a quick rundown of the represses.
Hands down my favorite release from last year was 'Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983​-​1987,' and the vinyl edition sold out very quickly. Captured Tracks has come to the rescue with a black-vinyl repress that should arrive in March. If you missed it the first time around, preorder now.

Spinout Nuggets sold out of the "If Not Now, When?" b/w "Yellow Pills" singles by Jetstream Pony last year, but the the label is now offering the 7" in a new shade of green. That one should be available as of yesterday.

At the end of 2019, Dolly Mixture got the reissue treatment twice with 'Demonstration Tapes' and 'Other Music.' Both, of course, disappeared immediately. 'Demonstration Tapes' has popped up again in the same double-vinyl format and with the same "new" cover. You can find it in a few places, including Monorail in Glasgow. Absolutely essential material covering 1979-1983.

On to the reissues. The Clean are one of my favorite bands from Flying Nun, and Merge Records has done an outstanding job releasing their music (both new and old) to Americans for nearly two decades. (I don't mean to slight Captured Tracks. Their reissue of 'Vehicle' in 2013 was perfection.) Merge is at it again with vinyl versions of the 1996 album 'Unknown Country' and 2009 album 'Mister Pop.' One listen to "In The Dreamlife U Need A Rubber Soul" from 'Mister Pop' will have you realizing if this indeed turns out to be their last long player, they did not go out with a whimper. These two LPs hit the shelves March 26, and there are some good bundle deals directly from the label.

Firestation Records continues to mine pop gems from indie's golden age. I was so pleased last year when the Church Grims, one of my favorite bands from Glasgow's Egg Records, got a good going over by the German label. Lightning is about to strike twice in one place because there will be a retrospective from another Egg band I adore, the jangly Remember Fun. 'Contentment' comes our way April 16 as a vinyl 14-track edition or 18 tracks on CD. I had no idea there were that many songs from Remember Fun in existence. Everything I do have will be there, including the songs on the "Train Journeys" EP Matinée Recordings put out in 2001, the song the band did in 1987 on the Sha La La split flexi they shared with Emily, as well as the song that appeared on the Egg sampler "A Lighthouse in the Desert" in 1989. I'm looking forward to the two live songs the most because I have never heard Remember Fun on stage before. I'm also betting the demo for "Cold Inside" is going to be something special. Preorders are being accepted now.

If you love your copy of the Loft's compilation 'Magpie Eyes 1982-1985' but always wished for more, get happy because Cherry Red has blown it out to two discs and 30 tracks with 'Ghost Trains & Country Lanes – Studio, Stage And Sessions 1984-2005.' Don't worry, the Creation recordings are there. Other highlights include 10 songs recorded at the Living Room on June 8, 1984, a Janice Long session from later that same year (she did love them so!), unreleased songs from 2005 (yes, 2005!) and a Gideon Coe session with the reunited band in 2015. At a great price like this, there is no reason to wait. You know you're getting this one. Preorder here.

Last Night From Glasgow is on quite a roll, and that includes their reissue arm Past Night From Glasgow. After they release 'Star Wars' from BMX Bandits (covered on these pages earlier in the month) comes 'I've Seen Everything' from Trashcan Sinatras. The 1993 album, originally released by the excellent Go! Discs, will come out on a variety of colored vinyl, but the shades are going quickly. Even though this one doesn't come out until September, you should jump all over this one. LNFG says this album is selling faster than any one in their history. For you die hards, there is also a book available. 'The Perfect Reminder' is chock full of interviews and photos from the band, fans and others.

Even though I already have it on vinyl and on CD with bonus tracks, this one will be tough to resist. The always reliable Optic Nerve Recordings have announced the reissue of 'Pleasure' by Girls at Our Best! The double album (yellow/magenta colored vinyl disc 1 and turquoise/magenta disc 2) includes the original tracks plus singles and B-sides housed in a gatefold sleeve. The inner sleeves have lyrics, photos and an interview by The Mouth Magazine. You may recall back in 1981 the first 10,000 copies included a "pleasure bag" containing two postcards, sticker and stencil. Optic Nerve ups the ante with four postcards, two stickers, stencil, reproduction tour poster, reproduction promo posters for the “Go For Gold” and “Politics"/"It's Fashion” singles, press photo and press flyer. That's just the physical stuff. Don't forget Judy Evans. When it comes to fronting a band, she's right up there with Debbie Haynes in my book. I know I'm going to break down and get this one. Might as well just hit the preorder button right now.

I have a few more suggestions, but I'm running out of gas. I'll try to pick it up again next week. In the meantime, save your shekels.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A Story Untold for Years: One Year in the Life of the Jasmine Minks

As excitement builds around two impending releases, our pal from New Zealand returns to give us a lesson on one of his favorite bands from the golden age of indie pop. The floor is yours, Duncan...

Following Brian's recent post on Precious Recordings of London, I was inspired to write something about two further forthcoming releases on the label. These are EPs of two radio sessions from either end of 1986 by a group that is very close to my heart: the Jasmine Minks.

Firstly, a bit of history. Of the batch of new groups emerging in and around Alan McGee's Living Room club in 1983/4, there were three that really stood out: the Loft, the June Brides and the Jasmine Minks. Over the next couple of years they released between them some truly exceptional singles: "Up the Hill And Down The Slope", "Every Conversation", "Where The Traffic Goes". But by the beginning of 1986, the Loft had disintegrated, and the other two groups faced what would prove to be a pivotal year. And while the June Brides didn't survive, the Minks came out of it stronger than ever.

After the rush and the roar of their first two singles and LP, the Minks had gone to ground in early 1985 to regroup and reassess. They emerged with a whole new set of songs, and a tougher and more focused attitude and direction. I have a couple of live tapes from the spring of 1985, and the level of anger, energy and intensity on display is almost scary. This was a band clearly on a mission.

Around this time, they decided to release a statement 7" EP: four brand new songs recorded quickly and unleashed on the world in the style of "Spiral Scratch". This would be a document of the time, and provide a stepping-off point for the next stage in their development. It would also be a self-referential and deliberately perverse two fingers up and goodbye to the scene they had helped kick-start:

"Do you remember how we used to take the piss out of every shitty sound that sounds just like this?"

Sadly, Alan McGee was to step in and fuck it all up (not for the first or last time in the Minks' career), and what emerged was a watered down facsimile of the original vision, released months too late. I still hope that someday one of the more discerning labels like Optic Nerve will release this 7" EP as it was always intended: "Forces Network", "What's Happening", "Black and Blue", "World's No Place".

Meanwhile the Minks had moved on, refining and developing their new set of songs, a process that was supercharged by the arrival of school friend and self taught trumpet player, Derek Christie. So, as McGee released old Minks material under the guise of the new (the excellent "Cold Heart" had been recorded two years earlier for their debut LP), the new five-piece incarnation of the band recorded a session for John Peel show in February 1986 which is featured on the first of the upcoming Precious EPs.

Their new sound came as a shock. The songs were soulful, introspective and sophisticated. The trumpet and the ensemble playing provided a new depth and subtlety. These aren't songs that grab you by the throat like "Think!" or "What's Happening" -- they take time to reveal their manifold delights. The four tracks on the EP include two real gems; Adam's :Ballad of Johnny Eye" and Jim's "Cry For A Man". These are songs that exude a great deal of sadness and melancholy, but which are offset by genuine passion and fire. You really need to hear them!

"The rain falls down the windowpane, trickling like tears
Her secret eyes, a silent sob, a story untold for years."

Later in the year, the new LP came out. Once again, McGee had interfered, and what should have been a classic release was compromised and reduced. The intended title track, Jim's gloriously soulful "We All Have to Grow Up Sometime" was shamefully omitted. Other crucial tracks ("Got Me Wrong" and an exhilarating trumpet-driven new version of "Forces Network") were consigned to the "Cold Heart" 12" and replaced with songs recorded years earlier. But despite this, the LP still contains tracks of great beauty and power: "Choice", "Painting/Arguing", "Like You", "Ballad of Johnny Eye" and "Cry For A Man" are all simply stunning and should be part of any self-respecting record collection.

The other release of the time to compare was the June Brides' similarly excellent "This Town" EP. Both shared a newfound level of confidence and song writing depth. Sadly, they also shared a fate of poor sales and a criminal lack of interest and support from the music press. So while newer, lesser bands found fame via the 'C86' cassette, The June Brides and the Jasmine Minks were sidelined. It must have been heartbreaking to see your greatest work being ignored like this. Unsurprisingly, the June Brides called it a day, and the Minks fell apart, with both Adam and Derek leaving the group. It was hard to imagine the band continuing without singer, songwriter and founder Adam Sanderson.

It took another old-school friend to travel down to Somer's Town to once again reignite and refocus the Minks; this time in the shape of guitarist Walter Duncan. Suitably fired-up, Jim Shepherd quickly penned a whole new revolutionary set of songs. The second of the Precious EPs is a Janice Long session from November '86, showcasing three of these new songs for the first time, along with a spirited run through of the perennial Minks' standard "Where The Traffic Goes". The session includes an early version of perhaps the Minks' most famous and most loved song, "Cut Me Deep". If any single song sums up the spirit and attitude of the band, it is this one. Written by Jim in response to Adam leaving the group, it is a loving and generous tribute, all wrapped up in the most gorgeous of tunes:

"You made me see so clear
I learned so much from you immediately
A radiance flowed from you affecting me
The knife you cut so deep in me will stay 'til the day I die."

The following year saw the Jasmine Minks finally release the great LP they'd always promised ('Another Age'). Later that same year I saw them play an incendiary set in support of Primal Scream in Nottingham; one of my greatest memories.

And so you see, some stories do have a happy ending.

These two Precious releases are beautifully packaged and lovingly put together. You really need to order them! Many thanks to Nick G of Precious Recordings of London for making these two radio sessions available after all these years.

February 2021

Monday, February 22, 2021

New Music From the Catenary Wires

If there is anything positive that can be taken from lockdown, it's that Rob Pursey and Amelia Fletcher, indie-pop's answer to Nancy & Lee, haven't rested on their laurels... and they certainly could have, couldn't they? After all, the duo has kept our heads bobbing since Talulah Gosh nearly 35 years ago.

In the last year, Rob and Amelia have had stints in new bands European Sun and Swansea Sound. If that hasn't been enough to keep us sated in these troubling times, don't forget that tremendous singles collection from their years in Heavenly. Oh, and there have been online DJ sets, an appearance at the Wedding Present's At the Edge of the Sofa virtual festival and on and on. Thank you, Rob and Amelia, for making the last year tolerable. Whippersnappers of the indie world should be taking notes on these two.

Now comes the best news of all with the triumphant return of the Catenary Wires. The duo has made an abrupt turn since the melancholic bedsit tunes of mini-album 'Red Red Skies' in 2015. Since 'Til the Morning' in 2019 there is a full band that now includes Fay Hallam on keyboard, Ian Button on drums and Andy Lewis on bass. Upcoming album 'Birling Gap' should hit the shelves in May.

Today, it is my distinct pleasure to join several other like-minded indie-pop fans in posting a listen to the first single from 'Birling Gap.' "Mirrorball" will be released as a 7" (and digitally) on Shelflife in America and on the band's own new label Skep Wax in the UK and elsewhere. The sound will take you back to the golden age of indie, and the gorgeous back-and-forth vocals of Rob and Amelia are sure to make you smile. Mark your calendars. The single comes out April 16th. In the meantime, let's go to the '80s disco for a listen to that A-side. Can love really be found under the mirrorball?

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

More Trips Around the Track With BMX Bandits

Here are a couple of releases from BMX Bandits that are necessary only to the fan who has to have everything. "Islands in the Stream" (yes, it's a cover) came out in 1994 as half of a yellow 7" split flexi with short-lived BMX Bandits tribute band the Duglasettes on the flip. This was right smack in the middle of the band's Creation years. It came out on Bring on the Bull Records and was included with issue No. 4 of the WAAAAAAAAAH! fanzine. This proved to be the last issue from Richard Coulthard and Colin Babb, and they went out on a high note with interviews from the like of the Haywains, Blueboy, Brighter, Northern Picture Library and the Rileys. These are all bands you should find on your shelf.
Back to the song. Duglas goes Vegas camp on this one, complete with screaming girls and corny on-stage banter. It's a big smile, especially when he introduces Norman Blake on guitar. Like the original, this is a vocal duo, and the girl part is taken on by Catherine. That's all the sleeve says, Catherine, and I have always assumed it's Catherine Steven from the Groovy Little Numbers. She would have been part of gang, and it sounds like her too. Still, just an educated guess. This one is far from vital, but I love it anyway. Upon hearing it, Kenny must have rubbed his beard and said something like, "huh?" Dolly probably paused, giggled, and said something along the lines of "ain't that sweet." She's a very nice person.

Islands in the Stream

Here's another bonkers early '90s release. "Gordon Keen and His BMX Bandits" is a five-song EP that came out as a red-vinyl 12" and on CD via little known Sunflower Records. Most of the usual suspects join Duglas, including Joe McAlinden, Francis Macdonald, Eugene Kelly and Norman Blake. Opener "Your Class" is well known from 'C86.'

"Girl at the Bus-Stop" is from the mind of Dan Treacy and goes back to 1987. He sent a rough demo of the song to the band, and it became part of their show from way back. You can catch a live rendition on their 1989 album 'Totally Groovy Live Experience!' That Treacy demo didn't pop up officially until 2005 on 'And They All Lived Happily Ever After,' an odds-and-sods collection from Television Personalities. Incidentally, Treacy and BMX Bandits shared a split 7" in 1991 where they performed a song from each other's discography for a singles club. Treacy chose the aforementioned "Your Class."

If you're a fan of the Flying Burrito Brothers and liked how BMX Bandits called themselves BMX Bandidtos on 'C86,' then the title of this next one will be a big smile. Just don't expect it to sound like something from 'The Gilded Palace of Sin.'

Girl at the Bus-Stop
Hot Bandidto No. 1

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Take Rides Back in Time With BMX Bandits

Since the recent airing of 'Teenage Superstars' (the 2017 documentary chronicling the indie scene in 1980s Glasgow) on Sky Arts, our little corner of the Internet has been awash with posts on the Pastels, Shop Assistants and many more. Feels like heaven. Wait, Fiction Factory is Perth and the wrong, well, everything. My apologies. Anyway, keep up the good work, bloggers. It has been a pleasure.

I hope all of this attention has Duglas T. Stewart feeling less like a cult curiosity and more like a bona-fide hero. He deserves it. With all of the recent reissues and still more just around the bend, it certainly seems like, especially, the earliest work of BMX Bandits is getting a good reassessment. I picked up a nice copy of 'C86' back in the fall (No. 16 on my list of best reissues), and we have these to look forward to in the near future...

As mentioned in an earlier post, Precious Recordings of London is a new label focusing its talents on releasing BBC sessions from indie-pop's golden age, and these two beauties will drop on or about March 1. The format for each is double 7" with gatefold sleeve and includes sleeve notes from Duglas himself. A few postcards will be thrown in as well. As you can see from the dates on the covers, both BBC appearances are very early. We didn't really know it then, but BMX Bandits was an all-star band in the making.

I should warn you these records do not come cheap, particularly if you have to have them shipped halfway around the world. When the dust settled, my pre-order came out to a whopping $50. Still, if the download of "Strawberry Sunday" I received immediately is any indication, I'm in for a real treat. I love that song. You may remember the live version that was on the 12" of "Sad"/"E102" back in '86. If not, perhaps the studio version found on 'C86/Plus' or the 'Big Gold Dreams' box rings a bell. Well, this version from the Janice Long session is a different kettle of fish. Give it a listen above.

Here's another one for you to consider. On May 4, Last Night From Glasgow's reissue arm Past Night From Glasgow will bring you a 30th anniversary repress of BMX Bandit's second album 'Star Wars.' I preordered this one way back in early December as a companion to that 'C86' reissue I got last fall because...
This 2-in-1 CD is the only copy I have of 'Star Wars.' Quite an ugly and unimaginative cover, eh? I want to thank Rev-Ola for releasing it a decade ago when I was desperate for these albums, but it will be a pleasure to retire this one. What a who's-who of Scottish legends the BMX Bandits were for 'Star Wars.' Duglas was joined by Joe McAlinden, Norman Blake, Eugene Kelly, Gordon Keen and Francis Macdonald. Enough said, really. For those who haven't pre-ordered from Past Night From Glasgow, another option would be Monorail. Stephen will have exclusive magenta vinyl and a signed Risoprint. At any rate, if you don't have 'Star Wars' yet, there's "a new hope." Sorry. That's terrible.

Come Clean

Monday, February 1, 2021

'A Different Kind of Tension'

Was perusing the shelves yesterday... looking for something to listen to while doing mundane household chores. Can't say I got much done during the extremely short side A of the 1986 compilation 'A Different Kind of Tension,' but what an enjoyable listen! Side B was a much bumpier ride (the Beloved, Vee VV, Stump, the Wedding Present, the Shamen), but these first five songs are quintessential 'C86.' Some of the best offerings from Dreamworld, Subway and Pink. Quality. The album came out on Pressure Of The Real World Records, and this was the label's only release. Weird.

This is the kind of comp that should have made quite an impression on my musical tastes in my youth, and I usually have a mind like a steel trap when it comes to these things, but I have no recollection of when or where I picked this one up. Troubling. Leads me to believe I got this later in life when I already had these songs but couldn't resist buying it anyway. That happens a lot.

The Mighty Lemon Drops - Like an Angel
Soup Dragons - I Know Everything
One Thousand Violins - Like One Thousand Violins
The Wolfhounds - Cut the Cake
June Brides - Every Conversation